National dog challenge kicks off in Atlanta

Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge at Centennial Olympic Park. Program begins at 11:15 a.m. and the last challenge begins at 3:30 p.m

Four-legged competitors will face off in a series of “Olympic-style” events Saturday at Centennial Olympic Park.

It’s the national kick-off of the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge.

Competitions will include head-to-head weave pole racing, large and small dog agility courses, and fetching. In the dog diving competition, a crowd favorite in previous Incredible Dog Challenges, dogs take a running leap off a 40-foot dock into a 19,000-gallon pool of water.

The program begins at 11:15 a.m. and the last challenge begins at 3:30 p.m.

The canine competitors qualified for their events Friday, and the competition heats up Saturday as it is filmed for television. Dogs who win their event will be automatically sent to the September national championship in St. Louis, so the stakes are high.

“It’s our 17th year doing the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge,” said Jim Allen, brand manager for Purina Pro Plan.

Allen has managed the Incredible Dog Challenge since its inception. “This dog challenge is unique because it has stood the test of time,” he said. Other challenges have emulated it, “but none are still around.”

This Eastern regional competition brings dogs from several states to one playing field to compete, but of course Atlanta native dogs plan to defend their home turf.

“This is our fifth season at Purina Incredible Dog Challenge,” said Heather Gulden, of Clarkston.

She and Nathan Jr., a pit-bull/German shepherd mix, have been competing since he was a little over a year old.

“He is the perfect teammate, with the best of both breeds,” she said.

Nathan was rescued as a puppy, taken off the Atlanta streets when he was only days old. Gulden raised him and found that he was filled with energy and loved running and jumping. The family took him to Canton Canine Ranch just to let him play but ended up discovering much more.

“He was a handful around water, so we gave it a try,” said Gulden, “and he jumped 22 feet his first try” at dog diving.

It was then Gulden knew she had found Nathan Jr.’s calling.

Nathan’s personal best in dog diving at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge is 27 feet. He will be competing in the Fetch It! event Saturday. His personal best in fetching is just three feet shy of the 23-feet world record. Nathan Jr. has not won an Incredible Dog Challenge in his category but it’s still the duo’s favorite thing to do every year.

“He is a strong worker and enthusiastic, always willing to learn,” said Gulden. “He has rested and had easy walks this week to make sure he’s rested and fortified.”

Purina sees this Incredible Dog Challenge as not just a competition but a chance to highlight pet and owner bonds.

“You will see how competitors and owners do it all with their dogs, get the dirt under their nails. They do it together” Allen said.

“I have never seen a dog be a sore loser. Here dogs jump into the arms of their owners, win or lose.”